Box Office Poison

With the very best books I find I get sad when I’m only a few pages from the end because I just want them to go on, not too many fall into that category but like I said, the very best do.  One graphic novel that did this to me was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison (2005), I’m normally a bit of a sprinter but I read the last 20 pages here at a ludicrouslyslow rate because I was so enmeshed in the characters’ lives I just didn’t want to have to step away from them.

Never liked the cover very much
Never liked the cover very much

Box Office Poison essentially deals with the lives of 5 main characters after they finish college in New York.  We get the full hit of dreary jobs, vaunting ambitions running into grim reality, comic books, sex, no sex, apartment sharing and the comic book industry.  No-one in this book gets murdered in an exotic fashion, nobody dons a costume to fight crime and absolutely no-one saves the world from an alien menace.  Instead we get a cast of beautifully fleshed-out characters moving through a lot of the same situations we all have.  What saves this from being a fast train to Dullsville, Idaho is the sheer quality of Alex Robinson’s writing and drawing.  He favours a bold ink style, mostly pretty naturalistic but he isn’t afraid to exaggerate and change things up occasionally.  The other thing to mention is that this is frequently a very funny book.

We've all been there
We’ve all been there

Box Office Poison 04

Box Office Poison 06

I came to really care about the characters, nervy nerdy Sherman, academic Jane and her hairy (and frequently naked) boyfriend Stephen, as well as all the lesser players here. They feel real.  With a 602 page black and white graphic novel you need that impetus to drive you through. I don’t want to spoil anything here but it has a really great ending too, a happy one. I’ve read a goodly number of ‘proper’ novels that don’t achieve anywhere near this level of characterisation.  It would also make a damn fine mini TV series / film too.

Box Office Poison 07

Robinson makes really clever use of these repeating galleries of characters being quizzed on different things  - you get to know them
Robinson makes really clever use of these repeating galleries of characters being quizzed on different things – you get to know them

As well as the lives of the main characters Robinson deals with the restrictive contracts that the big comic companies tied up their writers with in the 40’s and 50’s when the character Ed Velasquez, himself an aspiring comic artist, goes to work for comic legend Irving Flavour.  Flavour it turns out created Night Stalker (basically, Batman) in the 1940’s and does not receive any royalties or acknowledgement from his former bosses at Zoom Comics.  Robinson certainly doesn’t spare anyone in the comics industry as we get some withering portrayals of comic conventions and industry types.

Night Stalker
Night Stalker
Comics types
Comics types

Did I mention there’s quite a bit of nudity too?

Box Office Poison 09
More of that naturalistic style I was talking about. Rats!!

Overall Box Office Poison is a terrific read and one I just got lucky and stumbled across one day, I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it (apart from people I have bullied into reading it) and if you like comics, life, relationships, well-observed comedy, occasional nudity and perfectly written dialogue with loads of swearing in then this is for you; it’s certainly for me.

489 Down (still).

33 thoughts on “Box Office Poison

  1. This looks great. The illustrations reminds me a bit of R. Crumb. I’ll have to look for this one. I’ve been re-reading The Walking Dead, Hellblazer, and Preacher books. Re-read Watchmen a few months ago as well.

      1. We’re missing some of them too…might have to remedy that. The TV show has really taken off for us, so we’ve sadly put the books on the back burner temporarily.

      2. I read the first four books before starting the show, so I had preconceived notions about how the show should have been. I have grown to love them both, but I still like going back to the books as a reference point.

    1. Love Preacher and I’m just getting obsessed with the Walking Dead TV series.

      There is a bit of a Crumb thing going on here, slightly smaller lady butts! If you ever see it my advice would be to snap it up.

      1. True. Crumb’s lady butts are quite large. Actually his drawings are the origin of the phrase “junk in the trunk”. I’m sure of it.

        Y: The Last Man is another great graphic novel series I started reading. I need two more books to finish that series. Very smart and funny stuff.

      1. One thing I learned from MacBeth, it’s that anything happening in threes may or may not be a good thing, so in this case I believe I’ll defer. Don’t wanna overdo a self-inflicted spelling correction. It may lead to grammar paralysis. And then the snits. I may be thrown out of this lovely blogging group of I go full crazy on it. 😉

  2. This looks AWESOME! I’m with you on the endings of books… which means I must recommend Asterios Polyp, for the ending alone! Oh I’m an unrepentant graphic novel fan of long standing, it’s true.

    I will definitely be seeking this one out, though thanks to Sarca’s travails I am now wondering just how that’ll happen!

    Also, in that nudity pic, it looks like if that guy rolled over he would crush that little woman, oh my.

    1. Someone from Oakville is selling three Alex Robinson GNs for 39.99 / $16 shipping. Then I remembered my commitment to tbr20. Okay…buying this will have to wait.

    2. It is AWESOME! Not enough people know about this one. I keep picking it up and re-reading bits of it again, that’s why I wrote about it. Plus I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

  3. I’m enjoying how our music blog community is drifting into books!
    And I meant to tell you, I just started a different Haruki Murakami book about running, I’m a fan of his writing style thus far

    1. Damn! Not for sale in Canada! I tell ya, some of these graphic novels are hard to find. Before xmas, I was trying to locate Tomine’s Optic Nerve #10 – not available, anywhere! I was going to even pay for shipping from the publisher in Quebec – they were sold out. Le Sigh.

      1. Sorry … day from hell, no chance to even check comments so I’ve come in at the end of your saga. It’s a great graphic novel, but it can wait a bit. Wonder if you could order it direct from the publisher, Top Shelf Productions?

      2. Too late! I bought it off of a guy on eBay – another Ontarian! I get three Alex Robinson GNs for an excellent price. Oh, much for tbr20…I couldn’t beat the price ($60 including shipping for three GNs!). Meanwhile, I’ve seen one go for $90.

        I looked at Top Shelf…they’re selling an ebook, but looks like it’s only available in the U.S. Licensing thing, maybe?

        The cover of my Box Office Poison looks different than yours. Must be a new edition.

      3. I’ve never read anything else he’s done (and I’m assuming he is a ‘he’) so I’d be very interested to know what the others are like.

        You won’t regret BOP, I swear by all that I hold holy!

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